Law schools need to rethink what we teach, who we teach and how we teach it. That was the message of Gillian Hadfield’s opening keynote address to the Future of Law School Centenary Conference here at the U of A Faculty of Law. Among other recommendations, Hadfield spoke of the need for law schools to educate not only future lawyers, but also others involved in the provision of legal services, such as legal assistants and paralegals, professionals from other disciplines and undergraduate students in other faculties. During the Q & A, a U of A law student asked whether law schools' rigorous admission standards affected the delivery of legal education. Hadfield wholeheartedly agreed that they did, specifically noting their effect on who has access to a legal education.
But how are law schools to broaden their student bodies given their current position as a ‘second degree’ professional school charging differential tuition? It struck me near the end of Hadfield’s talk that the obvious solution would be to conform to the rest of the world and offer law as a true undergraduate degree, open to students directly out of high school. The expectation would be that not all students who complete a degree in law would go on to be lawyers, in the same way that not all math majors become mathematicians, thus releasing law schools from the constraints imposed by the number of available articling or first-year associate positions. Rather, a law degree would offer a solid grounding in a specific subject matter, one that is particularly relevant to the structure of our daily lives, along with critical thinking and communication skills.
Of course, this would require law societies to rethink how they grant entry into the profession. It also would require law schools to rethink their identity as elite professional faculties. But it might also give law schools the flexibility to cope with the challenges ahead, including government budget cuts and a contracting legal market.
It’s just a thought (albeit a potentially heretical one). But this is the purpose of the Future of Law School Conference – to question our working assumptions about what legal education is and ought to be. It should prove to be an exciting and stimulating two days.As for Hadfield’s allegation that law schools train only future lawyers, I am not convinced that this is true. Yesterday, Canadian marketing genius and creator of the world’s best mass-produced chocolate chip cookie passed away at the age of 73. According to this obituary, before becoming the face of Loblaw's President's Choice store brand, Dave Nichol obtained an LLB from UBC and an LLM from Harvard.